CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A spring semester at the University of Virginia that started with the hope of health has instead brought about the hardest-hitting COVID-19 surge in the area since the pandemic began.
“We began to see a troubling and unusually large rise in cases among our students,” UVA President Jim Ryan said during a virtual town hall Friday, February 19.
The university saw 663 new cases of coronavirus among its student population from February 15-18. Ryan says there is not one group of students to blame, nor was it the fault of the newly found UK variant on UVA Grounds.
“We should beware of and reject a single, simplistic narrative where there’s one villain or one villainous group to blame,” the president said.
Ryan says many students and groups weren’t following the rules.
“We have brought cases for COVID violations against a number of individual students, and also student organizations, including five of our fraternities,” Allen Groves, the dean of students, said.
UVA’s Greek-life organizations hosted rush events last week. Ryan says they’re not all to blame, but they did have an impact on the spike: “Perhaps we should’ve tried harder to discourage all in-person rush events,” he said. “It may seem obvious at this point that there would be violations, and we might seem somewhere between clueless and naïve to believe otherwise, I get that.”
He also accepted blame for that decision: “This was another situation where we were trying sincerely to strike the right balance between freedom and trust on one hand, and complete control on the other. If we got that balance wrong, I’m sorry, and please lay the blame at my feet as I am ultimately responsible.”
UVA says a bit of good news is that in-person classes have been mostly safe.
“We don’t see the in-class environment as something that is a particularly high-risk environment,” Mitch Rosner, the chair of the University of Virginia Department of Medicine, said.
As for when the new restrictions could be lifted, Ryan says it depends on the numbers: cases, positivity rate, isolation, and quarantine space, among others.